After the landmark Supreme Court of Canada BCTF decision, Christy Clark needs to move quickly to put back what she took away

The Vancouver school board could need to hire over 200 more teachers and will need to use a lot more classrooms. That could mean some difficult decisions lie ahead for its government-appointed trustee, Dianne Turner.

The Vancouver School Board
The Vancouver School Board (VSB) administrative offices on West 10th Avenue. Photo by Patti Bacchus.

Since last week’s quick and decisive Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) decision in favour of the B.C. Teachers' Federation in its long-running dispute with the Christy Clark B.C. Liberal government, there’s been much speculation regarding exactly what it all means for B.C.’s school districts — and students.

It appears the terms of teachers’ collective agreements regarding working conditions, including class size and composition terms, that were legislatively deleted in 2002, have been restored and can be the subject of future bargaining. The 2002 contract language will be the starting point. What that will mean exactly for schools remains to be seen.

There are, however, some things we do know about the impact or returning to staffing levels that would be in line with the restored 2002 collective agreement language, or close to it.

Since the 2002 contract stripping and subsequent legislative changes, school boards have been allocating their staffing in accordance with Section 76.1 of the B.C. School Act. There is currently no language in collective agreements at the provincial or local school board level that deals with class size and composition.

To get an idea of what applying old contract language to today’s schools and populations looks like, we need to look at what was in place in 2002. Back then there was a Provincial Memorandum of Agreement in place that was signed in 1998 that limited primary class sizes to a maximum of 20 students for kindergarten classes and 22 for grades one to three. Under the current School Act, kindergarten classes could go up to 22 students and grades 1-3 up to 24.

There was additional language regarding teacher workload in school board agreements with their teacher locals. For example, Article 9 of the Vancouver School Boards’ (VSB) agreement also dealt with class size, and included specific limitations for courses like Tech Studies (24 students), English or Home Economics (28 students max), split classes (two fewer than the limits for the high grade level) and English as a Second Language classes (20 students).

A significant difference how the old old contracts dealt with students with special needs

A significant difference from the old VSB contract language compared with today’s School Act is in how the two deal with students with special needs.

The old VSB contract, which presumably has been restored by the SCC ruling, says “Class sizes shall be reduced by one student for the first two students with special needs and by a further one if, in very exceptional circumstances, a third special needs students is added.”

That created much different classrooms than we see today which don’t necessarily get smaller when additional students with special needs are added.

It also stated that a “teacher of a regular class shall not be required to enrol more than one student with special needs identified in categories [Ministry of Education Special Education Designation] A (dependent handicapped), C (intellectual disabilities), G (Autism Spectrum Disorder).”

It also stated “No more than two students with special needs shall be enrolled in any one class, save for very exceptional circumstances, without the agreement of the teacher.”

Until last week’s court ruling, there were no longer any rules or limits regarding the placement of students with special needs in classrooms in the collective agreement or legislation.

The most recent VSB class size and composition numbers are for last school year and show many classes at both elementary and secondary levels with over seven students with Ministry of Education Special Education designations.

Will require more librarians, counsellors, ESL and learning assistance teachers

Another big difference between old language and current staffing practice in accordance with the B.C. School Act is when it comes to what school boards refer to as “non-enrolling” positions.

That’s jobs like teacher librarians, counsellors, learning assistance teachers, English as a Second Language (ESL, now called ELL – English Language Learner) teachers and Special Education Resource teachers.

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